EMS using virtual reality triage


WESTERVILLE — “Can you stand?” Dustin Schaaf of the Delaware County Emergency Medical Services team said to the injured man.

The man stood, and Schaaf put a yellow band around the man’s wrist.

This was one of several people Schaaf applied triage to via virtual reality Tuesday morning in the Delaware County EMS Medic Station 7, 6305 Frost Road, Westerville (in Genoa Township). The simulated injured people, many visibly bleeding and, on the ground, could be seen on a projected computer screen behind Schaaf.

“I’m not dizzy at all,” Schaaf said while wearing an Oculus Meta Quest 2 advanced all-in-one virtual headset with hand controls and looking around a hypothetical Delaware subway station, which had been bombed minutes ago, according to the simulation. To those real people watching Schaaf work, he appeared to be in a normal meeting room.

“Where’s my backup?” Schaaf asked as he processed the wounded.

Schaaf continued assessing the extent of those that were injured according to an algorithm written on a whiteboard in the room. Those needing delayed treatment were given yellow bands, minimal treatment green, immediate treatment red, and the deceased black.

Once he was done, Schaaf was debriefed as to what he did right and where he could improve. The feedback was immediate.

“You saved more people than anyone else and the fastest, just over seven minutes,” said Douglas Danforth, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at The Ohio State University College of Medicine. Danforth and Nicholas Kman, clinical professor of emergency medicine at Ohio State, developed the disaster response training simulation in 2018.

“You did really well,” Kman said. When they were done debriefing him, Schaaf left.

“This is focused specifically on triage,” said Delaware County EMS Capt. Glen Keating, who watched Schaaf and other first responders try their hand at the relatively new technology. He said that it assists but doesn’t replace the training that involves real volunteers who pretend to be hurt. Such training has been put on hold a bit by COVID-19. The virtual gear was sanitized before each use.

Also watching was Ashish Panchal, Delaware County EMS medical director and professor of emergency at OSU. He said that in addition to training 120 first responders in the county, the program has been given in Westerville and Worthington, and in a forthcoming national conference.

“Virtual reality gives us an immersive experience, and we can do this repeatedly,” Panchal said. “They actually feel like they’re there and are getting the medical and emotional experience. This is a big part of our mission. We need to train first responders to optimize care for people. Unfortunately, we’re seeing an uptick in mass casualty incidents nationwide. This is not normal. We want to make sure our EMS professionals are ready.”

Delaware County EMS members Ashish Panchal (left) and Glen Keating (center) watch an injured woman being treated virtually by Dustin Schaaf during a training session.
https://www.delgazette.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/40/2022/11/web1_DSCF9309.jpgDelaware County EMS members Ashish Panchal (left) and Glen Keating (center) watch an injured woman being treated virtually by Dustin Schaaf during a training session. Gary Budzak | The Gazette

By Gary Budzak

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Assistant Editor Gary Budzak covers the eastern half of Delaware County and surrounding areas. He may be reached at the above email address.

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